He wasn’t here for any business, in fact he wasn’t even aware that he had arrived there. He took small steps as if he had all the time in this world; he didn’t have any business to attend to or any responsibility. As if, he was tired and now wanted to watch life passing by. In a way, it was true for him. For what or who had remained in his life? Indeed, nothing was left for him.
Shadows were almost disappearing. Everybody was in hurry to reach to his or her destination, even birds. Yet he was the only one who had nowhere to go, nobody to turn to. He only wanted to walk until the end of this world.
For the first time in his 68 years, he was asking himself a question, which he hadn’t even asked in his childhood. And he felt that despite of gaining such novel experiences in his whole life, this question had somehow remained unresolved; why this world is round? Why it is oval like egg, why not flat like bread?
If this question had occurred to him 24 hours ago, he would have dismissed it as inane. But not now. This question had become a question mark in itself of his entire life. And he couldn’t summon the enough courage to scribble anything at all after it.
What if this world was flat instead of a round. He would have stood at the edge of it, looking at himself and at that constellation which was ready to greet him with open arms. And at that moment, he would have looked at both and decided which one to choose. The World where
Providence had given him ground under his feet and sky above his head and his own people have wrenched both from him. Or this vacuity where he couldn’t plant his feet properly yet there were lamps, lit for him to show him the way around. It would have been very difficult for him to choose between these, few days back. But now he was certain which direction he’d go.
He reminisced that Saima immensely loved this poem. She sung it whenever she saw a newborn, even when she had held Ilaaf when he was born. But she could never sing it to Qandeel and he could never—no matter how much Qandeel insisted—imitate Saima’s lilting voice.
There was no need to take a decision because everything had been decided. If he would now be offered the whole Universe even then he was sure to refuse it and choose the empty space where life was absent but the lamp of life was illuminating in form of Saima Yousuf.
At the rooftop, leaned to the wall, when she used to sing these verses, it seemed to him that the moon had borrowed his light from her eyes. And whenever he looked at her singing like this, his heart used to swell with joy- at the thought that this light was part of him. The light radiating from her smiling face was everything to him.
He stumbled over something and controlled his balance with difficulty. He stopped for a while to steady his breath and looked around. He had come so far without even knowing it. People come back to senses when they stumble but in his case, he was thrown back into unconsciousness of this world from the clarity of his constellation. His world was now centered to Saima so what he was to do in this world. What was left for him here.
“Qandeel.” An ache settled in his chest.
She was the soul reason of his life but those cruel people had snatched her from him. He couldn’t even begin to explain those four days he had spent without Qandeel. The grief was unspeakable. Every effort had been in vain, his courage was dying away and now his limbs were also giving way to this grief. His feet had refused to go a single step further, his eyes were sightless and his ears had stopped working since last two hours.
He rested a while in a near by shop and asked for water. People present there advised him to stay longer but he refused. He signaled a rickshaw and asked him to take him to nearest park.
He had never before thought of life to be that hard as compared to last four days. The taunts, the way people flung insults at Qandeel, muddied her name, efforts of Qaiser Lashari for defaming her, dishonoring her, separation of Qandeel, worries for her safety, Saqib’s concerns and doubts and moreover the shameless attitude of Saleha apa and Sami, when they saw Ilaaf coming out of his house, was finally taking a toll over him. He realized for the first time that he made a mistake, expecting from them any good.
He paid the rickshaw driver and came into park. The evening was just starting.
Even the cool breeze didn’t help him to dissipate the tumult he was experiencing from last four days. Those daggers disguised as words were still tearing at his heart.
“You were so proud of her modesty, now what went wrong? Why didn’t you teach her instead of lecturing us over decency, Uncle? She had been deceiving me for not sure how long and I prized her as the most faithful woman in the world. Ilaaf is a mere reason to solve this mystery or I would have never known for how long and with how many she has been….” He shut his eyes tightly as if someone had drowned him in mud and he wanted to safe his eyes from it.
“She hasn’t been home since four days and you say Qaiser Lashari has kidnapped her! If it had been so, why didn’t you lodge complain against him. Why didn’t you go to media to blackmail Qaiser Lashari so that he would release her? But no you didn’t. Because you too are unaware of where she is. She got frightened from her false witness and now she feels the need to hide herself until this tandem dies down. Or may be she has run away with either Saqib or Ilaaf or don’t know with whom! You don’t know anything, you never did. Instead, you always acquiesced to her every wish whether legitimate or otherwise. You gave her liberty to act whichever way she would deem it necessary and that made her more obnoxious, headstrong and careless. And her doom was furthered by her university friends. She has lowered herself so much that I am now ashamed of even keeping with her any relationship. And to think that she was the centre of my dreams.” He wouldn’t have felt more pain if someone would have dragged him across the bed of razor blades.
“She always claimed that she doesn’t hold extravaganzas and luxuries to any worth so why is she now blackmailing Ilaaf for marriage like this? You were always teaching honesty and truth to others, why didn’t you feel the need to teach your own daughter these virtues as well. Why is she disgracing everyone-related to her- in whole world like this. And why this man had come here? Did he come here to present his condolences or to inform you that she is living with him these days?” He felt like he was made to sit on thorns, each and every one of it piercing into him, perforating his being.
He watched himself, bleeding away like this.
For last few days, he was trying to ignore these same implications made by almost everyone, for Qandeel. Trying and not succeeding in ignoring these atrocities wreaked with the help of words on his beloved daughter. And yet he was surprised at his demeanor when his own nephew and sister were slaying Qandeel’s character, why hadn’t he slapped Sami hard on the face for the words he used for Qandeel? Why hadn’t he admonished him, his sister for filling so much hatred in Sami for Qandeel. For strangers only need a small incentive to propagate against innocent people. But blood relations are different case. Qandeel had been born and grown up before Saleha apa and Sami and they had always praised her for her geniuses and now knowing her inside out they still have the gall to call her all those filthy things?
“There comes a point in some relationships where love disappears and pity takes it’s place. We cannot break-free nor face-away from them rather we go on fulfilling them, pitying over them. We simply are unable to hate them. And the emotion which we call hate is ignorance actually which makes room into us through pity.” Saima was absolutely right and I had never understood this point.
Whenever he witnessed Saima’s parents’ behavior with her, the hatred with which her mother faced her which made him wonder how come Saima gets through these self-crushing visits without even a single frown. He also inquired from her, doesn’t she ever feel any animosity towards her mother who is always insulting her, cursing her, and indignant with her, no matter what she did. And Saima always replied in those same words.
Now he had understood all of these facets of life. He could tell about it’s every edge, each crevice.
Wind increased a notch, rustling the branches. Children were on swings; playing and having a time of their life, not a single worry on mind. He too wished to be a child once more. Away from every affair, to enjoy this moment here but that was not possible. His nervous system was preparing to go off forever. He felt pain in his left arm.
He stood up. His gait stooped as if he has lost everything.
His mind was a whirl of disjointed sentences, faces. He didn’t have mind to join the dots. The dark was swallowing everything and he wanted to complete few responsibilities before being engulfed completely.
He didn’t try to remember how he reached his place, it was too much effort. And anyway, the void was getting bigger and bigger. He hadn’t felt the need to call anyone. He didn’t want to go to hospital because he had made his choice and he was just waiting for the time of it’s completion. He was aware his choice had been granted.
He saw Kazmi sahib and Shaheen near his gate when he entered his street. Shaheen must have come for Qandeel and after not finding her at home, was inquiring about her from Kazmi sahib, Yusuf Mairaj deduced. Shaheen was a eunuch who had great respect for Qandeel only, in whole ward. And why not, Qandeel was the only person who welcomed her with etiquettes and always provided for her needs.
He came towards them. They both greeted him and Kazmi sahib started, “She was asking after Qandeel. I had to tell her that she hasn’t been home for last four days nor do we know when she will return, if she decides to return that is.” He couldn’t help taunting him.
Yusuf Mairaj was hurt and Shaheen too minded it.
“Watch your tongue old man!” She admonished Kazmi sahib who thought better to walk away.
Yusuf Mairaj didn’t comment and pushed the door to enter (he had forgotten to lock it in first place.)
“Sahab ji tell me what is wrong with my angel Qandeel. Where is she? What was this jerk talking about? Please tell me, I am worried for her.” She was talking in his characteristic way and for the first time her strident cadence sounded to him like mother’s velvety voice.
He related to her the accident in fewer words. She sat on floor and cried her heart out over Qandeel’s tragedy cursing the culprits when he finished.
His gaze was intense. Who was she? A mere eunuch who is rejected by whole society. A gender who survives by praying for others to earn money. And curse those who don’t pay them was crying his heart out for Qandeel as if she was his blood-relation. In past four days, nobody, not even his own sister had believed him about Qandeel, let alone pray for her life and here Shaheen was the only one who had taken Yusuf Mairaj for his word, the only person who trusted Qandeel and her character and may be that is why her love for her was pouring out of her eyes like that.
Yusuf Mairaj brought some water for her and cooled her down. When she was ready to go, he offered him some money which she refused vehemently and said,
“I am not that low. I don’t come here for money. I take it from Qandeel because I cannot bring myself to refuse her. I am very much able to earn for myself. When Qandeel will return, I will, along with my cult, present myself at Shah Sahab’s mazar. This is my plea until she returns.” Shaheen left. A tear escaped out of the corner of his eye.
He sat absent mindedly for some time and then dialed Ilaaf’s number. A last chance to hear his beloved’ voice.
Ilaaf was surprised when he saw his number on mobile screen but of course he couldn’t know the reason. He handed his mobile to Qandeel.
“Baba, are you alright? Did you go to Usman Uncle for regular check-up?”
He hmm-ed and ahan-ed through the initial questions then came to real matter.
“Qandeel love, listen to me carefully.”
“Yes Baba, I am listening.”
“I will always be with you whether I am near you or far away. Even if we are separated, know that I will always be there, in your strength, your courage. Always remember that you will not lose. Not against any person, against your grief, your loneliness. Do not give in to people’s biases, their hatred, OK? Me and your mother will really be put off if you ever give up. And we’ll be extremely happy and content whenever you’ll face everything courageously. We’ll be proud of you regardless of your success or failure. You are Qandeel Yusuf, daughter of Yusuf Mairaj and Saima Yusuf. You are strong like your mother and a little naïve like your father so you have got to make both of us proud of you. You always have to smile and live for life, for the goal of your life and the reality of the dream for which your father spent his best years of life.”
“Baba, this can wait till I come back. The case will be decided in few days, I will be home, and we can discuss all of it then. Why are you bringing this up right now?”
“Don’t worry. I was sad without you so I just wanted to hear you.” He soothed her heart and then disconnected the call. This casual act felt like he had burned his last bridge towards life.
The pain in his left arm had spread to his chest and he was having difficulty in breathing. He came inside the room and took sometime to relief his breath. Sitting on bed, he looked around. The images and perfume of her time and presence spent here, rushed back to him. He looked at her dressing table where Saima used to stand and make over herself, her image always pulling him towards her. The wardrobe where her stuff remained at exactly the same way and still occupied more than half of it as if she still uses it. He looked around whole room where she used to pace up and down. Finally, at their bed where he’d still felt her presence even after her death. This room held so many memories which always helped him to move on in life even after Saima’s death. Those beautiful moments of love when she roamed and breathed inside these walls, her smiles, tears, everything was alive in this room--- and he himself—was so near to death now.
He had lost the track of time. The pain was vehemently rushing in his veins and he was covered in sweat. He tried to breathe properly but it seemed like it was stuck somewhere inside him, refusing to come out. His heart was hammering around in his chest and he felt it would pop out at any given time. He leaned on to the wall to support his shaking legs and tried to go into the courtyard. It took him ages to reach to the pillar and all of his strength went away in this simple exercise. He sat down; cell phone was still in his hand. He had to do one last thing before giving himself away. He called upon Allah with shaky voice and dialed Hamza Shahid’s number. The ringer went on relentlessly at other end. He was dismayed. The pain was paralyzing his mind and he didn’t have much time. And then Hamza Shahid received his call at last. He didn’t have much time so he started at once.
“You said once that you love Qandeel like your daughter so now I am leaving her to you as I take my leave. Love her like your own daughter and give her freedom to decide for her life. Let her go if she chooses to stay with Shama in Islamabad. Guard her unequivocally.” Speaking was proving to be too much an effort, his voice shook with the strain and sweat ran down from his face but he had yet to finish.“Guide her but always make sure to leave her choose on her own. Try to bring a patch up between her and Ilaaf, you know the reason why. Omar desired so. If it’s better for them then they will come together and if not then they will have whatever has been decreed for them. I just want you to be with her, and never let her feel alone.”And then he couldn’t go on. He tried to gulp in the air but it was as if lungs had refused to take in.
“Yusuf what is it with you? Are you alright ? Or did you have a heart attack. Don’t worry I am coming right away.” Hamza Shahid exclaimed into the cell phone but Yusuf Mairaj’s cell had slipped to the floor. He was going into unconscious. He closed his eyes and started reciting kalma. His heart thudded a little louder and he, not able to take up the blow, put his hands on the floor and tried to steady his breath and heart beat.
Suddenly, the otherwise warm March night began to cool down a little and there was a pleasant silence among his dying heartbeats. He contracted his nostrils in an attempt to take the air in and the unexpected perfume that entered in his senses surprised him. Sitting in a crawling position, he breathed again to recognize this perfume.
That delicate sensation as love. How could he forget that sensation which had adorned his very own existence all his life, and it continue to do so even when he’s dying. He looked up and now his senses were working perfectly.
She was standing two feet away, smiling at him. Even his breathing was normal now.
“Diya.” He had said this word after such a long time. And it wasn’t a surprise that it had come to him even in this condition. She was Saima for people, but Diya for him. A lamp which lit his life all this time.
She came nearer to him, and he was still, staring at her. She looked like a princess in that milk-white dress, those green bangles and gold studs. She was in this attire at last 14th August they were together.
He kept on looking at her, speechless as she sat beside him. Her beautiful smile had even made him forget the pangs in his chest.
“Yusuf, my Yusuf!” She said in exact same way like she used to and rested her head on his shoulder. And he was sure that he was not hallucinating. He could feel her head on his shoulder. She looked at him.
“Is it hurting very much?”
“Do not worry yourself now as I have come. It’ll pass. I have come now.” And she put her hand on his heart. The touch was so cool and refreshed his otherwise burning heart. He couldn’t tell if his heart had quietened or stopped altogether and neither cared.
“Why did you go?” He complained.
“I had to, Yusuf. But now I have come. The time of separation has ended and now we are together. Please, put aside all of your complaints.”
“We’ll never be separated ever again.” He nodded. He noticed the heartache had vanished and there wasn’t a single drop of sweat on his body. It was cold all over.
“Shall we?” She inquired.
“Yes but what about our Qandeel?” He was suddenly very mindful of her.
“There are so many people to look after here, including Ilaaf. And we’ll also be near her.” He was relieved.
“Now shall we?” she asked again and he conceded.
She stood and held out her hand to him. He took it and walked away with her; light-hearted.
He walked on without the need of knowing where he was heading as he was contented that he was with his Saima.
There, in the courtyard, echoed a sound,
Yusuf Mairaj was leaned on to the pillar, unconscious when Hamza Shahid and Kamran Ali entered the place. They checked his nerve, breathing and muttered something under breath. They both took his lifeless body inside the room and began contacting people to inform them about his death.
(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)
(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)